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“We don’t just catch aliens. We scavenge the stuff they leave behind. Find ways of using it. Arming the human race for the future. The twenty-first century is when it all changes, and you’ve got to be ready.”
Welcome to Torchwood: a world of violence, sex, humor, and plotholes you can drive a tractor trailer through. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can make for some of the most entertaining twists that happen in the show. When I took on the assignment of being your guide to the Torchwood universe, I was going to start off with just jumping into doing recaps and reviews of the episodes. But I started thinking about those who might not be familiar with the the universe the show is set in (the Whoniverse, so to speak) and changed my plans.
So what, or who, exactly is Torchwood?
First airing in October of 2006 on BBC Three in the UK, Torchwood is the story of a secret organization based in Cardiff, Wales. Located in a hidden base under the water tower in the Roald Dahl Plass, the team’s job is to protect the citizens from aliens – and their technology – that fall through a rift that runs through Cardiff. Show creator Russell T. Davies initially planned to call the show “Excalibur”, but later changed the name to “Torchwood”. The name Torchwood was originally an anagram of “Doctor Who”, which was used when New Who was being filmed to try and keep it secret.
Those familiar with the new series of Doctor Who know about how Torchwood started. In the episode “Tooth & Claw”, set in 1879, Queen Victoria founded the Torchwood Institute to protect the empire from alient threats and possible invasion after meeting the Doctor and Rose. By the time the Torchwood show timeline begins, there have been (or still are) 3 other Torchwood locations besides Cardiff.
- Torchwood One: Located in London, this location is very well known by fans of Doctor Who. This was the setting for the episodes “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday”, that ended the second series of New Who. Run by Yvonne Hartman, their motto was: “If it’s alien, it’s ours”, and was destroyed in the Battle of Canary Wharf.
- Torchwood Two: This location is in Glasgow, Scotland, and according to Captain Jack run by a very strange man we have not met.
- Torchwood Four: No one actually knows where it is. This location has gone missing, but they’ll find it again someday.
The show itself focuses solely on the team in Cardiff, Torchwood Three, led by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness. Let’s meet him and the team.
Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman): Torchwood is not this character’s first appearance in the Whoniverse. We first met him in 2005 in the Doctor Who episode “The Empty Child”. He’s a dashing conman swindling his way across the galaxies and time when he meets the 9th Doctor and Rose in 1940’s London, during the Blitz. He becomes a companion to the Doctor for a time, until the end of the season, and dies during a Dalek attack in “The Parting Of The Ways”. But he doesn’t stay dead for long. Resurrected by Rose after she takes in the time vortex, we last see him as the TARDIS disappears, leaving him stranded on the space station amongst the dead. The Jack we meet at the beginning of Torchwood is a very changed man. Having been in Cardiff off and on for over 100 years waiting for the Doctor to appear again after he escaped the space station, he’s undergone some changes. While he still flirts with everything with a pulse, he’s a much more serious and focused individual who’s become the leader of the team. There is much debate in the Torchwood fandom about the changes in this character’s personality. Some think that he’s been ruined and he’s no longer the same man they loved in Doctor Who. Others point out that he’s “grown up” and that the changes in his character are due to his bitterness over being abandoned by the Doctor and his desire to become a man that the Doctor would be proud of. But there’s more to Jack than we know, and we discover a big secret as the series unfolds.
Suzie Costello (played by Indira Varma): Introduced as Jack’s second-in-command, she’s keeping a huge secret that shakes up the entire team when it’s finally revealed. A very intense and somewhat mysterious character, we never learn much about Suzie over the course of the series.
Toshiko Sato (played by Naoko Mori): With both brains and beauty, Tosh is the computer and technology expert of the team. Even though she appears quiet and shy, this hides a genius intellect that borders on frightening at times, and has a fierce loyalty to the team.
Dr. Owen Harper (played by Burn Gorman): The team medic, Owen first appears to be a jerk, a womanizer, and an all-round cynical man. Deeply affected by events in his past, there is more to this character under the surface, even though he’ll be the first to tell you he’s a jerk.
Ianto Jones (played by Gareth David-Lloyd): If ever a character embodied the adage that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, it would be Ianto. Ianto goes through some of the largest changes over the course of the show, and leaves the team and the viewers wondering just what else he could be hiding behind his immaculate suits, dry wit, and coffee fit for the gods. He’s definitely one to never underestimate.
Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles): A police officer when we first meet her, she is the last member to join the team, brought in to remind them of what they are fighting for because Jack sees something in her they are missing. Gwen is supposed to be the character that gives the viewers a window into the world of Torchwood.
That’s it for the time being, intrepid readers. Now that you’ve had an introduction into the Torchwood universe, you’re prepared to move forward and discover its hidden secrets and suprises. Stay tuned and strap in, it’s going to be a crazy ride.